BRISBANE, Australia, Oct. 23 (UPI) -- The Australian state of Queensland has lifted a decades-old ban on uranium mining.
The announcement Tuesday follows Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's visit to India last week in which she and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed to begin negotiations on a bilateral civil-nuclear cooperation agreement. Gillard also said that Australia was ready to sell uranium to India.
That decision regarding uranium sales to India, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said, had prompted a further discussion of uranium mining in Queensland.
"It's been 30 years since there was uranium mining in this state, and in that time Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia have carved out successful uranium industries that deliver jobs and prosperity to their regions," Newman said in a statement.
While Australia has the world's largest known reserves of uranium, it accounts for only 11 percent of global output.
Queensland's last uranium mine, the Mary Kathleen, closed in 1982. Seven years later, the Queensland government banned uranium mining.
Newman said a three-member committee would be appointed to oversee the resumption of the mining, expected to report back to the government within three months.
Queensland's known uranium deposits are worth an estimated $10 billion and the industry had "enormous potential" to support economic growth, said Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell.
But the Australian Conservation Foundation called the decision irresponsible, ill-considered and a clear breach of Newman's pre-election commitment that there would be no plans to approve the development of uranium in Queensland.
ACF, in a statement referred to Newman's letter to ACF Chief Executive Officer Don Henry less than two weeks ago, in which he stated: "I take this opportunity to reaffirm my statements, made before the last election, that the state government has no plans to approve the development of uranium in Queensland."
Regarding the about-face, Newman told the Australian Broadcasting Corp., "I'll just assure people, we only changed our mind because of the Prime Minister's actions last week in India."
Noting that radioactive waste lasts a long time at a uranium mining site, ACF campaigner Dave Sweeney said, "In the shadow of Fukushima we need to be examining and exiting from the uranium trade, not digging ourselves further into a radioactive hole."
Australian Resources Minister Martin Ferguson praised the announcement, saying that Australia's mining sector was subject to ''world's best practice environmental conditions and the strictest safety standards," The Age newspaper reports.
Queensland Minister for Natural Resources and Mines Andrew Cripps said the government has no plans to develop nuclear power or allow the disposal of nuclear waste in Queensland.